TWU returns to NASA design challenge

Six TWU Kinesiology seniors make up the Acolytes of Apollo who are competing in NASA's design challenge showcase in April 2019.
Texas Woman's University seniors Jason Hogle, Suzanna Buckingham, Randy Manning, Talia Peña, Joshua Elorreaga and Meagan Gardner head to Houston next week to compete in the NASA Texas Space Grant Consortium Design Challenge Showcase.

April 10, 2019—Denton—Texas Woman’s University’s Acolytes of Apollo wowed everyone last November when they won top honors at the Texas Space Grant Consortium Design Challenge Showcase, competing against engineering and technology teams from universities across the state. Another TWU Acolytes team hopes to do the same next week when they show an improvement to the design developed last year.

TWU’s project focuses on the human element of space travel-specifically, reducing lower back pain experienced by astronauts in microgravity. The Acolytes developed a garment that can be worn daily and incorporates electrical muscular stimulation (EMS) aimed at certain muscles in the back.

“This semester, we are expanding the electrode coverage of the EMS device to provide even more muscle stimulation in an effort to mitigate the pain,” said team leader and kinesiology senior Meagan Gardner of Keller. “We also are transitioning to a Bluetooth-enabled EMS system to eliminate the wires in the garment, and are making the shirt out of antimicrobial fabric to improve long-term wearability.”

TWU Health Promotion and Kinesiology Associate Professor Rhett Rigby, Ph.D., recruited this semester’s team last October, allowing the new team to observe the work of the fall team and get ideas for improvements. In addition to Gardner, the spring Acolytes of Apollo team includes Kinesiology seniors Joshua Elorreaga of Fort Worth, Talia Peña of Grand Prairie, Jason Hogle of Coppell, Suzanna Buckingham of Keller, and Randy Manning of Carrollton.

“The spring team is implementing phase two of the project, which is standard in the Design Challenge,” Rigby said. “Usually, phase two focuses on developing and testing a prototype. But, our fall team designed and developed the first shirt in record time. After talking with our mentors at NASA, we realized we could make several improvements that would make the garment even more usable for long-distance space travel.”

The Acolytes show off their project at the Design Challenge Showcase, sponsored by NASA, April 14-15 in Houston. They will compete against 13 other university teams in categories such as best poster, best presentation, best model and best team overall.

Collaboration is key

Understanding that undergraduate students may not have all the answers to their research questions, the Space Grant Consortium encourages Design Challenge teams to network and consult with experts. This collaboration is a key factor evaluated during the Design Challenge, and the Acolytes of Apollo have worked with people both at TWU and in the community on their project.

TWU Fashion and Textiles Professor Sheri Dragoo, Ph.D., is helping the team with constructing the garment, which is made of microbial fabric with silver ion thread, recommended by Assistant Professor Amy Jo Hammett of TWU’s biology department. TWU graphic design student Skyler Brasuell digitized the team patch, as she did for the fall team. The Center for Student Research provided a computer with 3D modeling software last year, which is being used again this semester.

Outside TWU, REACT: Neuro-Rehab in Addison helped the team find clients to test the garment, and PlayMakar, a Southlake-based manufacturer of athletic training and recovery devices, provided the wireless EMS unit being incorporated into the device.

“We are very fortunate to have the support of several companies and the TWU community at large,” said team member Randy Manning. “Being able to mention that TWU won the competition last year definitely helped, and we hope to be able to repeat their success.”

About the Texas Space Grant Consortium

The Texas Space Grant Consortium is a group of 59 state universities, industrial and non-profit organizations, and government agencies that work to ensure that the benefits of space research and technology are available to all Texans. The TSGC is one of 52 nationwide.

Because Texas Woman’s University is an academic affiliate of the TSGC, TWU students are eligible to apply for Columbia Crew Memorial Undergraduate Scholarships and Graduate Fellowships and participate in the NASA Design Challenge team program, as well as other program and funding opportunities. The consortium also focuses on assisting new researchers in establishing research careers, enhancing research collaboration and mentorship with faculty, and conducting research aligned with NASA’s enterprises.

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Page last updated 3:24 PM, April 12, 2023